After more than four years of brutal street fighting and punishing aerial bombardments, the staggering extent of destruction in Aleppo begins to emerge: Tens of thousands of homes and apartments are uninhabitable, most factories have been looted or destroyed, and some ancient landmarks have been reduced to rubble, the AP reports. Reconstruction will likely take years and cost up to $40 billion, experts say. Some of Aleppo's centuries-old cultural heritage may have been lost for good. And healing the wounds in a city once split between a wealthier, pro-government west and a poorer, pro-rebel east could take even greater effort. UN satellite images have identified more than 33,500 damaged residential buildings in the city, most of them multi-unit apartment blocks.
Aleppo was Syria's biggest city before the war, with more than 3 million residents, and served as the country's industrial hub. Its ancient center, recognized as a World Heritage Site, drew large numbers of tourists. Today, Aleppo "resembles those cities that were stricken during World War II," says the head of the government's museums and archaeology department. "We need a lot of time and billions of dollars to reconstruct the city." He adds that "it will be useless to talk about reconstruction without security and stability." Syrian state TV, meanwhile, says army experts are dismantling explosives and booby traps left behind by rebels before they left the last neighborhoods they held this week.